Ann Hui Ching

For the past 284 days, Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, an undocumented New Haven resident who migrated to the United States from Ecuador two decades ago, has been living in First and Summerfield United Methodist Church to avoid deportation.

On Friday, around 400 New Haven community members — dressed in black and carrying signs — gathered at the steps of the church, calling for a stay of his deportation. The event was organized by Unidad Latina en Acción, a New Haven–based grassroots immigrant activist group to which Pinos has belonged for almost two years.

“I just don’t understand what’s the purpose of this government to separate families and make children suffer,” Pinos said at the rally. “I’ve never done anything wrong, all I did was work hard to support my kids — to give them a better life.”

Pinos has lived in the U.S. since 1993 and was the sole provider for three children before he took sanctuary.

During an Immigration and Customs Enforcement check-in in October 2017, Pinos was asked to return permanently to Ecuador by the end of the month. A few weeks later, the manufacturing company that had employed Pinos for 15 years requested he not come to work until his legal status was resolved. In November, Pinos sought sanctuary at the church. In 2011, ICE’s then-director John Morton issued a memo directing officers not to enforce deportation orders in “sensitive locations,” such as houses of worship, schools and hospitals. CQ

His daughters are at home — but are affected by their father’s impending deportation. They can’t focus at school, their grades are suffering and they’re overly stressed. They blame the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency.

“My dad needs his freedom now. We are tired of waiting, we just want to be together again in our house. What is happening to us and many other families is unfair,” said Kelly Pinos, one of Pinos’s daughters and a junior at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven. “Our generation has to show others that we can change this cruel broken system.”

The Connecticut public affairs officer for ICE could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

In a statement to the News last year, ICE said Pinos was issued a final order of removal in 2015 by a federal immigration judge, according to NBC Connecticut.  The statement said that if he did not depart, he would be listed as an “immigration fugitive” and arrested and deported when encountered.

After Nelson’s family members, ULA activists and community members spoke, attendees burst onto the streets — chanting in support of Nelson and immigrants. Protesters walked around the Green, up Chapel Street, turned right on York Street and circled back to the First and Summerfield Church. Many participants held posters and had numbers taped to their chests — 1 through 281 — indicating the number of days Pinos had lived in the church up to that point.

ULA member Vanesa Suarez said that the Board of Immigration Appeals — the highest administrative body for enforcing immigration laws — has the power to grant an emergency stay of deportation to Pinos, which would allow him to leave the church and argue his case in court. Suarez said Pinos’s case is currently at a standstill.

Speakers at the rally emphasized the urgency of Pinos’s case — and the need for support from the community. Larissa Martinez ’20 — a member of ULA and an undocumented immigrant — encouraged her fellow students to volunteer and to become more involved in ULA’s efforts.

“Being undocumented in this country is really, really hard. There are so many things about living this way that people just don’t comprehend,” Martinez said. “I am here to ask of all of you, of my classmates, to please start showing up. I am so tired of having to do the labor of having to explain to people why our humanity matters.”

Pinos is not the first immigrant to seek sanctuary in the First and Summerfield church. Marco Reyes, another undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant who has lived in Connecticut for 20 years, sought sanctuary at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven for three months in 2017. The day before Thanksgiving, Reyes was allowed to return to his home in Meriden while the New York–based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decided whether to hear his case.

Yale students at the event said they hoped that the outpouring of support for Pinos would help his case move forward.

“It’s really important first of all we support the community of New Haven, not only just within Yale,” Lillie Horton ’22 said. “Right now the country is treating [immigrants] as objects and not as humans and we need to change that.”

Atlanta native Anna Tran ’22 said that the rally “hit home” for her because half her high school classmates were immigrants and did not speak English. The protest represented a way for her to stand up for what she believes in, she said — and to show support for New Haven’s immigrant community.

This rally will likely not be the last in support of Pinos. ULA is planning to host events every week until Pinos is free, according to members of the group — including an all-female panel of ULA members and activists.

“I don’t think anyone deserves to be torn apart from their kids,” Kelly Speltz ’22 said.

All three of Pinos’s children were born in the United States.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz